Volvo Ocean race- Tacticians roll the dice for first leg decider

Team Telefonica on their way to Gibraltar at sunset, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.
Maria Muina/Equipo Telefonica

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has shown its hand and decisions have been made from which there will be no going back.

Franck Cammas/FRA made a bold move to take Groupama rock-hopping just eight nautical miles off the Moroccan coast, while Chris Nicholson/AUS (CAMPER) changed tactics overnight and paid a high price to join Telefónica (Iker Martinez/ESP) and Kenny Read’s PUMA Mar Mostro in the west. She is now 25 nautical miles (nm) behind Telefónica who still leads the field.

Cammas’s decision to split from the pack is risky. It is unusual to have such a defined split in the fleet, and Cammas is clearly confident in his choice. However, there is now no return for Cammas. He has made his decision and to change would be very costly indeed. His plan will be to pick up some thermal driving breeze from heat of the coast.

The group comprising Telefonica and Puma Racing, are playing to the old maxim that 'West is Best' meaning that to head west will get a better breeze offsetting the longer distance sailed. So far that would appear to be right, as the two yachts are sailing in breezes of around 16kts.

For Groupama, they are trading off staying close to the direct route, and hoping that they can get away with sailing in less wind, but sailing at a better angle and reaping the benefits of sailing less distance.

Groupama was sailing a 7kt btreeze, Camper in 12kts and Telefonica and Puma in 16kts of breeze. maybe the west is best - so far.

Camper seems to have been caught between two camps, but is not moving towards the west, but having initially given away a lot of miles to the two front runners.

Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo Credit must read: Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race)

Overnight, the teams have had to work hard to keep their boats moving, spending most of the night in little or no wind and sailing at speeds more usually found in an Optimist dinghy competition rather than onboard the usually super quick Volvo Open 70.

The boats have been eerily quiet, except for the slatting of sails and the gentle lapping of sea on the carbon-fibre hull, conditions that demand full concentration when trimming the sails or driving the boat, and create plenty of headaches for navigators.

CAMPER’s skipper Chris Nicholson advises that, in these frustrating, drifting conditions, it is vital always to keep the boat moving. Although the Volvo Open 70s are easily able to cover nearly 600 nautical miles in a day, when they stop they are difficult to get moving again. Nicholson says, 'Even if you are not going in the direction you want, just keep the boat moving and eventually you will find the direction you need.'

Things improved for the boats in the west very early this morning and patience was rewarded when, at around 0245 GMT this morning, the breeze kicked in for PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Kenny Read/USA). CAMPER also reported that the ‘gas burners’ had been turned on at 0500 and at last the boats are moving again, although it is still upwind sailing.

At 1000 GMT today Telefónica led the field by 3.40 nautical miles ahead of PUMA’s Mar Mostro who has swapped places with Groupama 4 and moved up fleet to stand second. CAMPER is in fourth position, 25 nm adrift of the leader and paying the predicted high price for heading west, but achieving the highest average speed of 14.2 knots.

A pattern of sailing, sleeping and eating is beginning to fall into place after the rigours of the first 36 hours. The mood in the fleet is general good and everyone is settling in now for the long haul to Cape Town.
Meanwhile, back in Alicante, Ian Walker and his team from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are making good progress and have stepped their replacement rig. They expect to go sailing today to tune it up and return to the point where they suspended racing sometime tomorrow. The news for Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya is less promising and the boat is likely to be heading to Cape Town by ship in order to make repairs to the bow section.